‘Battleship’ has game as a screen adventure

Movie Review

Liam Neeson in “Battleship”

“You sank my battleship!”

For a long time, that was a very popular phrase in television ads, at the peak of a certain board game’s popularity. It’s unlikely that any of the youngsters shown so eagerly playing the game could have imagined then that it would take on the proportions it did in the movie version of “Battleship,” which elevates the idea to “Transformers”-sized stature.

That’s not a bad thing for those who like special effects and pyrotechnics, as TNT reaffirms in showing the 2012 film Friday, Aug. 5. The catch is to put a solid story behind them, and to a large degree, director Peter Berg and his team succeed. It has its share of war-story cliches, but they play comfortably within the framework of a military-vs.-aliens saga.

Certainly an action stalwart ever since his then-surprising image switch in “Taken,” Liam Neeson plays the commander who leads troops into the fray against unwelcome invaders. Before the actual fight begins, though, we get plenty of back story on those who will be representing humanity in the conflict.

Two of those principals are Navy brothers played by Alexander Skarsgard (“True Blood”) and Taylor Kitsch (of TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” which Berg also had a big hand in). One plays it by the book while the other is a maverick hotshot, and if you don’t think their experiences here will reshape their relationship, congratulations on this being the first movie you’ve ever seen.

And it gets better: The apple of Kitsch’s eye is a physical therapist played by model turned actress Brooklyn Decker, and she happens to be the daughter of Neeson’s character. Can you say, “Armageddon”? In the same way that movie successfully redeployed familiar themes, “Battleship” reworks them in a satisfying manner. And there’s also the fun of seeing music star Rihanna playing it straight and serious as an officer who apparently couldn’t care less how attractive she is in uniform (though she is mighty attractive here).

“Battleship” is one of those movies that you almost shouldn’t take seriously for a second, but it does honor the members of the Armed Forces. That’s fitting … but in the end, the characters primarily are there for the reason moviegoers want them there: to vaporize the aliens. And in that way, the shots taken by “Battleship” are well-aimed.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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